Pinnacle [and HCS] Employees and the Law

So far the parents of two students at the Pinnacle Schools have filed police reports stating that their child was beaten at the school. There is good reason to believe more are forthcoming.

If I were an employee of Pinnacle Schools, I’d be very nervous. Of course they have a moral and ethical responsibility to report when a child is beaten, but times are hard and jobs scarce, etc., and there is retaliation to fear.

The thing is, if you are an employee of the Pinnacle Schools and you suspect a student has been abused, you can stop debating with yourself about what to do. You have no choice. You must inform the police. If it is discovered later that you were aware that a child was being abused and did nothing, then  you may find yourself in trouble:

Section 26-14-13 – Penalty for failure to make required report.

Any person who shall knowingly fail to make the report required by this chapter shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a sentence of not more than six months’ imprisonment or a fine of not more than $500.00.

You should have been told about this when you were hired, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if you weren’t. As a school employee, you are a mandatory reporter in the State of Alabama:

Code of Alabama – Title 26: Infants and Incompetents – Section 26-14-3 – Mandatory reporting

(a) All hospitals, clinics, sanitariums, doctors, physicians, surgeons, medical examiners, coroners, dentists, osteopaths, optometrists, chiropractors, podiatrists, nurses, school teachers and officials, peace officers, law enforcement officials, pharmacists, social workers, day care workers or employees, mental health professionals, members of the clergy as defined in Rule 505 of the Alabama Rules of Evidence, or any other person called upon to render aid or medical assistance to any child, when the child is known or suspected to be a victim of child abuse or neglect, shall be required to report, or cause a report to be made of the same, orally, either by telephone or direct communication immediately, followed by a written report, to a duly constituted authority.

If I were an employee of Pinnacle Schools, I would assume that this law applies to me, not just Karen Lee, but me.

Who is a “duly constituted authority”? Based on this, I think it would be the Huntsville Police Department:

Section 26-14-6.1 – Duties and responsibilities for investigation of reports.

The duty and responsibility for the investigation of reports of suspected child abuse or neglect shall be as follows:

(1) Reports of suspected child abuse or neglect involving disciplinary or corporal punishment committed in a public or private school or kindergarten shall be investigated by law enforcement agencies.

(2) Reports of suspected child abuse or neglect committed in a state-operated child residential facility shall be investigated by law enforcement agencies.

(3) All other reports of suspected child abuse and neglect shall be investigated by the Department of Human Resources.

Now then, for reasons best known to herself, in regard to the first report of abuse, Karen Lee apparently reported to DHR rather than to the Huntsville Police Department:

“This incident arose when one of our staff discovered marks on a student.  Per our policy, we informed the parents, contacted DHR, and put a staff member on leave.  The Pinnacle Schools is presently investigating this matter.”

Perhaps as a Pinnacle employee you don’t want to get involved because you fear retaliation by Lee or a civil suit if the guard isn’t arrested. I would hope that there are whistle-blower laws to help you with the first, for what they are worth, but liability for making a report that is dismissed is not something you need to worry about:

Section 26-14-9 – Immunity from liability for actions under chapter.

Any person, firm, corporation, or official, including members of a multidisciplinary child protection team, quality assurance team, child death review team, or other authorized case review team or panel, by whatever designation, participating in the making of a good faith report in an investigation or case review authorized under this chapter or other law or department practice or in the removal of a child pursuant to this chapter, or participating in a judicial proceeding resulting therefrom, shall, in so doing, be immune from any liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be incurred or imposed.

These laws were enacted to counter the it’s not my problem, I don’t want to get involved, people won’t like me if I speak up mentality. A child’s welfare matters more than an adult’s desire not to rock the boat. It’s as simple as that.

Of course, you can still stay silent and risk paying the $500 or sitting in jail for six months and then having a misdemeanor on your record when next you seek employment (how much longer do you think Pinnacle will be open?).

Your choice.


11 thoughts on “Pinnacle [and HCS] Employees and the Law

  1. I believe now Huntsville has a big problem and it extends beyond the school board. The city is trying to increase economic development but with this mess who would want to move their family here and enroll their children in HCS? Google is powerful and just do a search on HCS.

    • Smiley, most people that research HCS and still move here opt for home schooling, private schooling, or go to the county or Madison to live.
      HCS has been a huge disappointment to our children for a very long time. I’m happy my last child will graduate this year. Even so, I care about other kids who are in the HCS system and will continue supporting them the best I can.

      • CS has been a huge disappointment to our children for a very long time. I’m happy my last child will graduate this year. Even so, I care about other kids who are in the HCS system and will continue supporting them the best I can.

        Same here. At one time Huntsville City Schools were considered the crown jewel of public education of course that was way back when all the the schools were fully integrated and before white flight, and to some degree, black flight to south Huntsville, the county, or Madison.

        One thing I can say about Madison City Schools, and Madison County Schools, is the reason they are successful is because they aren’t trying to operate a dual school system, separate and unequal. All children have an equal access to a quality education regardless of their race, sex, or parents income.

  2. I know the grandparent of the first kid to report. Like a good grandpappy, he’s the one to force the parent into action. He is also the child that lifted his shirt when they were returned to class, a teacher saw the bruises, and took him to the principal.

    I know the following to be true: Pinnacle did not, despite the press release, contact his parents. The security guard, “Mr. B,” was not let go that day. He was, in fact, on duty during pickup that day.

    I believe the following to be true: “Mr. B” reported to work the next day. From the information I was given by the Grandfather, the DHR case worker assigned to his grandson, DHR did not visit or notify the school until Friday. The alleged beatings occurred Wednesday. The case worker for the first report is the same as the second, the only two students to go to the ER that Wednesday.

    From what I know to be true and what I believe to be true, I suspect the following to be true: Since Pinnacle did not call the parents and Pinnacle did not immediately release “Mr. B,” as they indicated in their press release, I believe Pinnacle did not, on that Wednesday, report the abuse to DHR. If a report was filed, I believe it was filed on Thursday or Friday, after the parents of at least two involved children did not report for school.

    In the case of the first reported incident, the police advised the student not to return to Pinnacle until their investigation was complete. The grandfather emailed the Superintendant demanding to know how his grandsons right to a free and appropriate education was to be ensured during this time. Through an underling, he was told the student was transferred back to his original school.

    I find it interesting that in this case the superintendent felt no need go to the media and broadcast the transfer to the city. Of course, following the superintendent wild accusations of the Wisconsin Task Force infiltrating our schools for money, it seems the School Board has kept him on a very short leash. He barely spoke at the last board meeting.

  3. I think The Pinnacle Schools is toast. The Times is reporting this am that the HPD found the first charges credible & an investigation has been opened.

    We know (per WAFF) that at least 2 students have gone to the police. The Times story reports that “more” students have gone to the police. Since rumor has it that at least 4 students were assualted by the “security officer” even if all 4 haven’t gone to the police, one would hope that the HPD investigation will uncover the other victims.

    Whether or not there is a criminal conviction, we’re looking at 2 or more students filing civil suit against the “security officer”, The Pinnacle Schools, Karen Lee, and the HCS. The “security officer”has the fewest assets, so he’s not who the lawyers will go after. Karen Lee is hoping that incorporation, LLC, whatever way she’s structured her company will be a firewall and protect her personal assets. Except, does anyone really believe that Eric Lee, accused drug trafficker, would have been employed as a counseler at The Pinnacle Schools if he hadn’t been Karen Lee’s son?

    Sooner or later self defense is going to kick in and the HCS will drop The Pinnacle Schools – at some point the liability will be too great. The HCS may not terminate the contract, but options may not be renewed, period of performance will not be extended, etc.

    • The only problem is, per the contract, HCS’s relationship with Pinnacle Schools can not be terminated for six months after notification of a breach. And no action on termination was taken at the last board meeting. In fact, if it hadn’t been for citizen comments, there would have been no mention of Pinnacle at all.

      • Way to go, Attorney Brooks. More money for your firm. The silence of Wardynski and BOE is appalling but not surprising. I can’t understand why an arrest has yet to be made; surely at that point, the Colonel and minions will have to acknowledge that they have a big, big problem. I’m thinking now Lee went to DHR to cover her ass as a mandatory reporter, knowing fully well that doing so instead of going directly to HPD would complicate things. Still, I think kids’ parents went to police, so delay not explicable. There must be CCTV, wouldn’t you think? [Yeah, I know, just a matter of time before we hear a Whoops report on that]. Also, the 4 boys beaten that single day (and I believe I’ve read 5 elsewhere) are just that — the 4 beaten that day. Do we have any reason to believe that day was different from every other?

      • HCS said they share no responsibility for what happens at Pinnacle. That’s unfortunate, as the contract with Pinnacle would make it seem otherwise. I sincerely hope Pinnacle, as well as the guard, Karen Lee , and the HCS BOE and Superintendent are held responsible for this travesty.
        I would take expulsion for my kid rather than send him/her to Pinnacle. There are other options.

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